A detailed look at Nike Basketball’s Area 72 space from All-Star weekend in Houston

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Nike Basketball pulled out all the stops during All-Star weekend to showcase its extraterrestrial lineup of special edition kicks that would be worn by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant during the NBA’s midseason exhibition.

Setting up shop inside the Houston Galleria mall, Nike created an Area 72 retail space that allowed fans to get the full space-age experience. It was impossible to miss the large black dome in the center of the mall’s lower level that housed the exhibit — it was eye-catching from above, and even at a distance.

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Once inside, fans enter a hallway with silver “space boot” versions of the shoes lining the walls, which leads them into the main area of the exhibit.

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After passing through the hallway, you find yourself in the center of things, where the real All-Star edition shoes are all on display. This was one of the cooler parts of the experience, where everyone entering received an access card with a unique code on it.

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Visitors walked around the exhibit where the shoes were encased in glass, and got to enter their code on a keypad. If the display read “access denied,” they didn’t win anything. But if it lit up with “access granted,” a key was revealed and they could unlock their size of the pair of shoes that they had just won.

One young man really wanted to win badly, and would rest his head against the display, eyes closed as he was deep in meditation (or perhaps prayer) before entering his code on the keypad. Unfortunately, he wasn’t among the chosen ones, and let out an exasperated yelp after being denied at all three tries.

There was plenty more detail to see, including video displays featuring Bryant, James, and Durant. Near the display’s exit was a customization booth, where merchandise that included socks, shirts, and track jackets could be special-ordered with various Area 72 design options. This was packed consistently throughout the weekend, and orders took between 1-2 hours to complete.

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Nike held player appearances at the space throughout the weekend, which included the three biggest names in the game whose shoes were prominently featured. The crowds were at times alost unmanageable, which speaks to the success of the space, as well as to the popularity of the NBA and the merchandise supporting the league fans love to watch.

During my visit, I caught up with Erick Goto, a member of the design team that created all of this. One of the more interesting things we discussed was how the design process for the All-Star edition shoes, as well as the theme that would carry the company’s vision throughout the weekend, was over a year in the making.

As we talked about all that went into the design process, Goto was like an actor who works on a film a year or more before it’s released, and then has to discuss it again after it’s become a distant part of his professional past.

“Up until a couple weeks, ago, I really didn’t know how excited to be about this whole thing,” he said. “But seeing all the images of how the space would look, I got so excited because you know, you’re working on it a year ago, and you’re done with that stuff. It was so long ago.”

Goto said the design team was surprised with how popular the space-age themes have become, beginning with the Galaxy editions that carried the 2012 All-Star weekend in Orlando through to the extraterrestrial theme that was omnipresent in Houston.

“We were surprised,” he said. “We definitely didn’t think that it would cause as much chaos as it did last year, but it’s great. And that’s kind of what pushes the creativity for the team. We’re always trying to make sure we deliver something special.”

The detail and design that was put into each player’s special edition shoe is truly something to behold, as was the retail space that came together for the All-Star weekend celebration. Seeing the space in its finished form made it well worth all the hard work the design team put into it, beginning more than 12 months before the final vision was realized.

“This totally made it worth it,” Goto said. “It totally brought a tear to my eye. People were down here a couple of days [before the opening] just sending me pictures of how the space was building out, and I was like, no way! I got totally excited. We worked on the product so long ago thinking, ‘it would be cool if they did this, or it would be cool if they did that.’ But they actually made everything happen.”


Nike Basketball Area 72 space at All-Star weekend in Houston

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.

Report: Clippers sort of resent Austin Rivers’ favored status

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.

They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.

But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.

Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.

That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.

And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.

Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.

That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).

Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.

Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.

And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.

There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.

But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.